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Li Keqiang, a former Chinese premier who served under President Xi Jinping and was seen as a leading proponent of market-oriented reform in an increasingly state-led economy, has died at the age of 68, just months after leaving office.
The senior Communist Party official, who headed Xi’s cabinet until March and guided economic policy for a decade, suffered a heart attack in Shanghai on Thursday, Xinhua said.
The state-run news agency said the former second-ranking officer died less than 10 minutes after midnight on Friday, “despite full resuscitation efforts”.
Analysts said the sudden death of a senior leader represents a challenging political moment for the party, which will rush to define Li’s legacy as it battles an economic slowdown and geopolitical tensions with the West.
Li served as China’s premier and head of the State Council, or Cabinet, for a decade before stepping down during the National People’s Congress in March. He was replaced by Li Qiang, a former party secretary in Shanghai.
When he took office in 2013, reformers hoped Li would work in the mold of Zhu Rongji, premier under the late president Jiang Zemin, who instituted some of the country’s boldest economic reforms between 1998 and 2003, including a large-scale privatization program.
In his first cabinet meeting as prime minister, Li announced that all ministries must “resolutely advance reform.”
Before Xi came to power, Li was also proposed as a strong candidate to succeed outgoing President Hu Jintao. There is a rivalry between China’s two main leaders on economic policy as Li comes to serve as the business-friendly face of Xi’s increasingly authoritarian government. Even as prime minister, Li was seen as far less influential than his predecessors Wen Jiabao and Zhu.
Li also comes from a different political faction, having risen through the party ranks of the Communist Youth League, an important powerhouse under former President Hu.
As Xi focused on exerting greater control and emphasizing state-owned enterprises, Li tried to champion market forces but struggled to promote his ideas.
“A lawyer by training, Li was considered a moderate voice and advocated for economic reform,” China political commentator James Zimmerman wrote on X, formerly Twitter. He added that Li is “viewed as a pragmatic leader and less ideological” than Xi’s close allies.
Joseph Torijian, an expert on elite Chinese and Soviet politics at Stanford University’s Hoover History Lab, said the death of a senior Chinese political figure was “the most complicated and challenging moment ever” for the leadership.
“I’m sure the obituaries will characterize Li Keqiang as someone who was fully involved in Xi Jinping’s plan,” Dorijian said. “These are the moments when you want the party to come together.”
During Lee’s tenure, Beijing’s economic bloc continued efforts to eliminate the enormous debt burden built up under China’s sweeping stimulus programs after the 2008 global financial crisis. These principles have been dubbed “ligonomics” by Barclays analysts.
“Ligonomics is about reducing, reducing and optimizing development quality,” Barclays analysts wrote in 2013 shortly after Li took office.
Policies aimed at reducing systemic economic risks ultimately played a role in sending the property sector, a key driver of growth, into a multi-year slump.
Despite occasionally trying to be more assertive, Li has been stymied by Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, and removed from top party posts in October last year, when Xi officially took over as general secretary of the Communist Party. A leadership team full of believers.
Li was born in 1955 in Dingyuan County in central China’s Anhui Province, where his father was an official. Like many of his generation, Lee was sent to the countryside at the age of 19 to do manual labor during the Cultural Revolution.
In 1977, he was admitted to the Peking University Law School, where he studied with A.V., an expert on British constitutional law. He read and helped translate Dicey. due process of law Lord Denning, an influential British judge. After graduating with a law degree, Li also earned a doctorate in economics from Peking University.